Attitudes and Perceptions

I actually never would have guessed even seven months ago that I would ride a bicycle every day. I had a mountain bike that I purchased to actually ride on trails. I rode it on trails. But riding on the road — especially around here — was far too dangerous. Bicycles were sporting equipment.

One day, though, I rode my bicycle to work. It was just so that I could get to a lunch a mile away. I was not going to have time to walk. I was absolutely hooked and have not driven or walked to work since. Well, I walked once — the day Paula arrived.

At first, I rode on the “safer” sidewalk. At least I did not salmon. I resigned myself to change my wardrobe to bike-friendly clothes. No more skirts. No Fluevog shoes. One cycling-friendly change that I made — getting my hair cut very short — I do not regret at all. But I’m having a bad hair life anyway. I slowly learned more about bicycle safety and learned that I could actually ride in most “normal” clothes. I have not tried heels yet. I don’t wear them often anyway.

But this post is about a serious impediment to riding: attitudes and perceptions. It has been discussed at length. The discussion will continue for a very long time. Cycling is far too dangerous. It is inconvenient. You need special clothes. You get too sweaty. It’s hard. You get wet. Snow is impossible to ride a bike in. Being in a car is more comfortable when it is cold.

People see my choice  to ride a bicycle as a threat. This shocks me. It’s as though I am one of those smug hybrid driving South Park characters smelling my own farts and inhaling deeply. One of my relatives was so offended by my choice to all but stop driving that he harassed me to the point that I had to cut off all communication. WTF? The insistence that I relent and concede that cars were better became an obsession. I’m not sure how I was hurting him by riding a bicycle.

I consider the threat that I will be hit by a car to be nothing but a way to bully me into participating in the car culture. I must spend a large portion of my income on a large gasoline powered machine lest I be killed by one. It will be my own fault if this happens. The car that hit me will not be what killed me — it will be the fact that I had chosen NOT to be in a car at the same time. The car is the safer machine, you see. Interesting logic.

I must wear a helmet at all times. Actually, I do this. I’ve become more aware of the actual helmet debate. In many places where bicycles are primary transportation no one wears a helmet. I can’t quite conquer the psychology of this one yet. I feel naked and vulnerable without a helmet. I dream of riding in a woolly hand crocheted beret. Yet, I have lighting on my helmet, so it serves an important safety and convenience role in that respect, too. With more than one bicycle, you can just get on one and ride, knowing that if you need lights (and I definitely say that you NEED LIGHTS), you will have them.

People tell me that they admire my dedication or my commitment to fitness. I only ride a mile each way to work and I ride quite slowly. It’s a flat ride. An asthmatic 70 year old with arthritis could probably handle it. It really is not a difficult commute. I ride an entire TWO miles each way to the grocery store. Again, it’s flat and I ride slowly. It takes about 5 minutes longer than it does to get there by automobile. I used to have folding grocery baskets on my bicycle, but now I make do with one bag at a time. I can always go back tomorrow evening.

Those who choose bicycles as transportation are often seen as having no other choice or possibly even being dangerous criminals. You are riding because you are a public menace whose driving license is suspended due driving while intoxicated. Perhaps you are simply too poor to own an automobile. The stigma of poverty really hits home for me. I grew up poor. Automobile society contributes greatly to financial struggles. There is real discrimination toward anyone who rides a bicycle to work. Many employers don’t consider a bicycle “reliable transportation” and won’t hire a person without a car — even for minimum wage jobs. Yet a bicycle is far less expensive to buy and maintain, and seldom needs an urgent $1200 repair. How on earth do you look down on a person using a bicycle to get to a minimum wage job? Is that person not being self-reliant?

My choices work for me. It is a little painful that they paint me as a weirdo but I have lived with that label most of my life. I’ve never been able to do anything just because everyone else did. It had to make some sort of logical sense to me. Cycling does make logical sense to me. I can afford a car but I can afford a really nice imported bicycle. I’d rather be on the bike. I am not forcing my choice on you.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Well, you did get a lot of compliments about your bike on the ride last night. Turn your angst into positive energy for our bike committee meeting in January!


  2. Great post! You’ve really laid out those perverse attitudes that many devoted motorists feel towards cyclists and cycling. The fact that you so keenly feel that others see you as a threat is amazing though. I feel as if people think it’s weird or motorists think we’re annoying, but I haven’t felt that I’m threatening others by my cycling. Perhaps it’s because I live in a slightly more bicycle-friendly city? Kudos to you for taking up riding – really really awesome. Also -your observations about the stigma attached to riding a bike and being without a car are spot on. It’s a weird double-whammy on lower-income folks. It’s better for us, better for the planet, and smarter for your pocket book, but at some income threshold, it is no longer ‘cool’ or ‘alternative’ but ‘criminal’ or somehow unsavory.


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